Art review: Culture and the environment intersect in ‘Material Resources’

"Material Resources" show at Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

A view of the installation, including “Basket,” 2015, etched birchbark by Barry Dana, American, born ca. 1958 and “Rondo,” 1981, barbed wire, metal rods, and wire by Deborah Butterfield, American, born 1949. Photo by Dennis Griggs/Courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art

The show at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, featuring UB professor Stephanie Rothenburg, incorporates a wide range of art forms.

Material Resources

“Material Resources” has an environmental basis, but it’s a show about the intersections of culture and the environment divided into three sections: extraction, conservation and development. Most importantly, it’s geared toward expansive thinking. We are invited to make connections and create our own ideas by comparing and contrasting disparate (and generally quite beautiful) objects.

Punctuating the show is a video and accompanying series of five blueprint-like works by Stephanie Rothenberg, who is Bowdoin’s first Roux Scholar in residence at the new Roux Center for Environmental Studies. The series, titled “Trading Systems: Bioeconomic Fairy Tales,” digs metaphorically, wittily and scientifically into creating utopian-ish solutions for the very serious problems facing post-hurricane Puerto Rico. She uses organic systems like growing bread mold and creating a working lamp battery powered by lemons. She also illustrates illustrates how to make a “foxhole radio” – an AM receiver that requires no power that was built by on-hand objects (a razor blade, wire, etc.) and used by U.S. troops during WWII. The effect of Rothenberg’s work is to supercharge the viewer’s imagination. If we can do those things, what can’t we do? And what else can we do with those accessible tools? Post-hurricane Puerto Rico is a tough subject, but Rothenberg’s can-do aesthetic is uplifting, forward-thinking and encouraging – perfect for a college setting.